11 Comments

  1. So why couldn’t Harold Bloom attribute Joseph’s recovery of some elements of Jewish theurgy to divine revelation? He only offers two options: Joseph’s imagination or demonic whisperings. That doesn’t seem like much of a choice. But I guess that’s the point of your post, isn’t it? If acceptance of divine revelation is not a part of your worldview then what else could one offer?

  2. Phouchg

    Before you send the missionaries over to Harold Bloom’s house, you may wish to read “The American Religion”. It is out of print but may be in a library near you. In it he does debunk Joseph Smith and the leadership of the Southern Baptists and says the two are two sides of the same coin. I read it years ago and found it fascinating.

  3. Phouchg: They recently put out a second edition of Bloom’s “American Religion.” I think it is a spectacular book, one of the most important written by an important scholar, but there is certainly some things that those of us who believe JS to be a prophet would take offense at.

  4. I don’t condemn Bloom. I think it is great and I give Bloom many points for recognizing in Joseph’s teachings something out of the ordinary. Bloom saw ancient elements of Judaism and Christianity in the Church, and early esoteric traditions that were completely unknown in Joseph’s environment. So how did Joseph get them? I think that is Bloom’s point. I’d have to read more of Bloom to know if or why he couldn’t attribute Joseph’s theology to divine intervention. But we should also note that just because he says it was Joseph Smith’s genius (or daemons) doesn’t mean he necessarily discounts it or excludes it as divine, either. I think Joseph was a genius, and I also think he was divinely inspired. What Bloom did recognize, however, is that Joseph was teaching things that he could not have known of himself, or from his immediate environment, which is pretty intriguing. If he saw in Joseph elements that were the same as ancient Jewish elements of divine intervention, then he is actually giving Joseph the benefit of a doubt of being a true prophet.

  5. Clark@lextek.com

    Also note that the theurgy he is referring to is Kabbalism. There are environmental arguments for how Joseph could have been exposed to them. I’m not convinced by them and honestly find some of the Kabbalistic parallels (including some by Bloom) rather dubious. But there obviously are some strong parallels. (Read Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism and some of the parallels will really amaze you)

  6. Thomas Parkin

    Harold Bloom is one of my personal heroes. He is an amazing _reader._

    In another place, he calls Joseph, “the authentic American Prophet.” He may be Joseph’s best reader from a purely literary point of view.

    Bloom is a self-confessing “Jewish Gnostic.” I find his religious ideas fascinating, even when I disagree with them. His religion is meant to confirm the self, rather than obliterate the self as in Buddhism. From that perspective, he is able to read Joseph’s insistence on the eternal nature of the “intelligence” or personality with a great deal of sympathy. He would also be very open to the idea that we ‘are only saved as fast as we get knowledge.’

    Bloom tends to make larger than life, grandiloquent statements. And as a veteran of a lifetime of lit crit, wants to create theories – even late in his career as he has generally jettisoned and repudiated in vogue literary theory. In that theory making process one ultimately will find common threads between sets of, in this case, religions, that can be used to stitch the theory together. So that in the American Religion he is looking to find common strands through American religions that allow him to draw his theory. In other places, he easily distinguishes Mormonism from American charismatic Christianity.

    In another book, ‘Omens of the Millennium’ he talks about Enoch, the Angel Metatron, and praises Joseph’s concept of angels to the skies. You may want to look into that. It is certainly a strange book from pretty much any perspective.

    Bloom isn’t keen on Christianity in general; especially does not like the New Testament as compared to the Old Testament; and has dismissed current leaders of the church as … well, this will be common to bloggers … trying too hard to distance us from Joseph and toward the current American Christian world. (I disagree with this heartily, too – but it isn’t tough to see where he is coming from.)

    ~

  7. In my mind, Bloom’s most valuable contribution was his observation that the rapid growth rates of the church would result in a political backlash. This is something most church members fail to contemplate or even consider. We generally believe growth to be a good thing. And on the whole, that’s true. Yet, it is a tragic fact of church history that when church membership reaches a threshold that represents a significant portion of the overall population, a backlash ensues that sees persecution raise its ugly head, as it did in Nauvoo. As I see it, what Bloom predicted for our future was prefigured in the Nauvoo experience. If we are wise, we will learn this history lesson from our own recent past and have a strategy ready to deal with it. The last time this happened, it cost us our prophet’s life and a painful and tragic trek westward. Who knows what the result might be this time, if Bloom is right.

  8. paul

    Phelps’ words are slightly different from those you quoted from the present hymnal. Originally, Joseph’s blood didn’t plead unto heaven. Rather, it stained Illinois. Which probably set back the missionary work in Illinois – so the wording was changed.

  9. You are right Paul. It doesn’t change the thrust of the hymn’s message however. The blood of the prophet which did “stain Illinois” is still “pleading unto heaven.”

  10. Don White

    The is a very good article written by Elder V. Dallas Merrell. In this article he quoted Dr. Bloom comments on Joseph Smith. The source for this quotation is ,The American Religion, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1992, p. 82-83.

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